Morrison, parents banter over bell schedules

Parents and teachers broke up into groups at Monday night’s meeting to discuss different key issues facing students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

While Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Heath Morrison takes his first 100 days on the job in stride, taking notes, visiting schools and listening to key stakeholders at area town hall meetings, parents and concerned community members are speaking candidly about their concerns with the district, naming late bell schedules and resource priorities as some main concerns.

Around 120 south Charlotte parents, students, lawmakers and other CMS employees gathered at Ardrey Kell High School on Monday, Oct. 1, for one of Morrison’s town hall meetings. On

Morrison’s arrival, he pledged to listen and go out into the community to get a sense of challenges and strengths of the district. So far, Morrison has visited nearly 110 of the district’s 159 schools and will continue to conduct community meetings until mid-November.

Late bell schedules remain one of the main concerns for south Charlotte parents, after the system adjusted many school start and end times to save the district money. That’s especially a concern at schools such as Community House Middle, whose 9:15 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. schedule is cause for concern, many parents said.

The problem is nothing new to Morrison and board members who helped make the changes to cut transportation costs down by around $4 million last year. But after the new schedules were put into place, and parents say they saw the negative effects in the energy level of their kids and loss of quality family time, they tried to take action, many said at the meeting, voicing their concerns to the board and conducting parent surveys to gather more information.

But their concerns were left unaddressed and unanswered, one Community House parent said.

That’s the concern for Jackie Hurston, a parent of a seventh-grader at Community House, who says her daughter comes home from a seven-hour school day absolutely drained with no energy and not a lot of time to interact with the family.

“Once CMS cuts something, it’s never coming back – that’s what scares me about this bell schedule. It may have been the right decision then, but what is better now?” Hurston said. “My daughter is exhausted. I know it was for budget reasons, but she doesn’t know that.”

For Morrison, he says he understands the parent concerns and has even heard some feedback from teachers about the issue, like during a meeting at Quail Hollow Middle School where he said teachers were concerned that the 4:15 p.m. dismissal was affecting their family time, as well, and forced teachers to take leave time for things like doctor’s appointments – something teachers at early dismissal schools have the luxury of avoiding.

But Morrison’s concern is the priority of the issue, which would take around $6 million in transportation costs to return schools to their previous bell schedules.

“We still want to look at it,” Morrison said. “The budget is a reflection of priorities, but do we want more teachers in the classroom? We have to do the best we can with what we have, even if we can’t totally go back to the way it was.”

For Morrison, one of his clear goals is improving the graduation rate, which currently stands at around 75 percent with an ultimate goal of 90 percent named in the Strategic Plan.

“I think a lot of business people would tell you your business should have audacious goals, so why can’t we shoot to graduate all kids?” he said. “I think we have to change that metric. We don’t want to be just a good school district – we are going to be a great school district. We are going to be about every child, every day, for a better tomorrow. It means we have to create a quality education for all students.”

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